(Aug. 4, 2010)
Help authorities protect children
A 3-year-old girl and her 1-year-old brother were recently found dead, their bodies close together, in a room without food or water.
The children's bodies were discovered Friday in an Osaka apartment. Their 23-year-old mother, who had left them unattended in the room for more than a month in scorching heat, was quoted by police as saying, "It was fun to go to host clubs [high-class drinking establishments that provide female customers with male companions] and I got tired of taking care of my children."
There has recently been a series of child abuse cases so dreadful we cringe in horror.
In June, a 5-year-old girl in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, died after continual abuse, including being thrown into a washing machine by her mother with her hands and legs tied.
In December, a 14-month-old girl in Yokohama suffocated after being confined in a wooden box by her mother and the man who lived with her.
Last month, a man in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, was arrested on suspicion of pouring lighter fluid on his 14-year-old son's back and setting him on fire.
Reports of abuse soar
According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, child consultation centers around the country handled a record 44,210 cases of child abuse in fiscal 2009, about four times the number 10 years earlier.
The increase can probably be attributed partly to an increased awareness of the issue in society, which has resulted in more reports to authorities that brought previously unknown cases to light. Looking at the hideous incidents that have occurred recently, however, it is difficult to escape the impression that child abuse has become more serious.
The revised Child Abuse Prevention Law came into effect in April 2008, giving child consultation centers more authority to enter homes in cases of suspected child abuse.
However, there have only been three cases so far in this country in which center staff have forcibly entered homes where child abuse was suspected. A bigger number is not automatically better, but administrative efforts still appear to be half-hearted.
In the case of the two children in Osaka, the local child consultation center did not aggressively investigate the possibility of abuse even though it received many reports from neighbors who heard the children crying.
Even though there might have been difficulties, such as identifying who lived in the apartment, it is possible the children could have been saved if the center had investigated a little more.
Make inspections easier
Some people have said it is difficult in reality for child consultation centers to exercise their right to forcibly inspect homes because they are short of staff and must fulfill strict requirements to obtain permission from the courts.
If that is the case, the government should relax the requirements and increase the number of staff at child consultation centers so the right to conduct inspections can be used effectively.
What was neglected, what was missing and what was insufficient in the relevant systems, preventing the lives of the two children from being saved? This latest case must be fully examined.
The ministry has established a telephone line for reporting child abuse--(0570) 064-000--and is calling on the public to report even seemingly minor information. However, this will be meaningless if reports concerning child abuse are not properly followed up.
The government should spare no expense to strengthen measures against child abuse.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 3, 2010)